It would be hard to not eagerly anticipate Passengers, advertised as a romance-tinged sci-fi coupling of two of Hollywood's most likable stars, Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence and everyone's favorite guardian of the galaxy, Chris Pratt. If you've been paying attention, you've likely noticed their ultra casual press junkets and almost sibling like prankster behaviors that have made us all belief this must've been one super fun set.
Unfortunately, in addition to a marketing approach that's off it's also these goofball antics and playful press junkets that reflect part of the problem for Passengers, a promising sci-fi flick based upon a script by Jon Spaihts that made the Black List a few years back and remains fairly intact from that incarnation of the story.
The story is, I believe it would be fair to say, not accurately represented in the studio's marketing for the film and it's likely equally fair to say that more than a few folks are going to find the film's not particularly subtle foundation to be more than a little jarring if not downright creepy and disturbing.
The story involves Jim Preston (Pratt), who is one of 5,000 passengers plus crew aboard a massive spaceship headed toward Homestead II, though they have all been placed in stasis pods until they are a few months out from the completion of their 110 year journey. When an undetected asteroid field breaks through the ship's security shield, power is temporarily knocked out and Preston awakens from his pod a mere 20 years into the journey. I am hesitant to give away too much of how the story unfolds, though one needn't be a rocket scientist to figure out that eventually Jennifer Lawrence's Aurora Lane, though part of how this occurs is precisely what ups the creep factor for a film that is advertised mostly as a "meet cute" flick in space.
Oh sure, the two do "meet cute." That's a given. How much you're willing to let go of the journey that gets them there may very well determine your appreciation for Passengers, though even if you find yourself completely willing to let go it's more than a little dismaying that the hoped for chemistry between Lawrence and Pratt really does more resemble best friends than potential lovers.
Here's the thing. Despite some fundamental concerns, Passengers is a film that feels like it's constantly on the cusp of being something really special. First off, it's a beautiful looking film with a production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas that is consistently impressive, the film exists within an environment that is pretty awesome to watch. The biggest problem may be that director Morten Tyldum doesn't seem to know how to bring out the story's bigger themes, something that's a bit surprising given the ways in which Tyldum tackled the equally challenging The Imitation Game. Passengers would have been better off, for example, if Tyldum had found a convincing way to address the elephant in the room. Instead, Preston will eventually confess, at least on some level, how everything unfolded with Aurora's short-lived anger quickly suppressed so that Hollywood can move toward the ending that Hollywood wanted and one that ultimately is unsatisfying.
Passengers isn't a bad film and, it should be noted, neither Pratt nor Lawrence are bad in it. It's simply not a film that lives up to the standard one might expect with folks like Morten Tyldum, Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence involved. There will be those who aren't bothered by the film's premise. Heck, there will be those who barely even notice it. For those folks, Passengers should be a perfectly fine if not particularly stellar experience. It's a tad unusual for films such as Passengers and Patriots Day to come along on Christmas weekend, a time when Hollywood is quite often pulling out its awards season contenders in an effort to catch some early buzz.
There for sure won't be any awards season buzz for Passengers, an ultimately unsatisfying yet passable from a cast capable of and likely expecting so much more from this film with so much potential yet not much to show for it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic